Well... it finally happened. Claire turned 21! She's in a good place right now; loves her school and her classes. One more year of study left and an exciting future ahead. Claire's plans include teaching in France for a year, then returning to the U.S. to become an elementary school teacher in a French Immersion school. If any one can make their dreams happen, it will be Claire. She astounds me daily with her creativity and enthusiasm.
Dinner out and gifts with family were followed by friends and neighbors joining us for cake and ice cream. Claire asked for a coconut birthday cake. I was shocked by the request. She never liked coconut... but apparently, her tastes have changed (in a good way). Shocked but thrilled. I have been wanting to make Thomas Keller's over-the-top recipe for some time... I now had the perfect reason to make his coconut cake rounds floating between billowy mounds of Italian Meringue. This cake is fabulous! Two things... 1. One of the ingredients in the cake batter is mayonnaise. Trust me on this -- Thomas Keller doesn't use Kraft Mayo from a jar. I made my own, from scratch. 2. The recipe calls for coconut extract. Pure coconut extract is not available in the Twin Cities; after an exhaustive search, all I could find was imitation extract, so I left it out of the cake. It is available on-line. If you want to use it, do so, but the cake will be delicious without it. One other thing... I've adjusted the temperature for the sugar syrup in the Italian Meringue. The recipe called for 250˚ on a candy thermometer. I've changed that to 235˚. Trust me on this, too.
A cake like this deserves the best ice cream you can find. I bought a quart of Lemon Custard from local producer IZZY'S. It was the perfect match.
And fortunately, I made two batches of the Italian Meringue since my husband couldn't keep his fingers out of it.
My plans for documenting, by video, the flower petals opening to reveal lighted candles swirling to a recording of "Happy Birthday" were thwarted when it created a fireworks event in my dining room that almost took out the light over the table (not to mention my husband's arm and numerous paper napkins surrounding the cake stand). Everyone who suggested doing this outdoors apparently knew what they were talking about.
• slightly-adapted recipe | Saveur, January 2014 (I have altered the temperature for the sugar syrup in Italian meringue)
FOR THE CAKE:
• Unsalted butter, for greasing
• 2 cups flour
• 1 cup desiccated coconut (I used unsweetened, purchased at Whole Foods)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 3 eggs, separated
• 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise (please, do not use purchased) recipe below
• 3/4 cup coconut milk
• 1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
• 2 teaspoons coconut extract (do not use imitation -- leave our if pure is not available)
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
FOR THE MERINGUE:
• 6 egg whites
• 1 2/3 cups sugar
• 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 325°. Grease three 9" cake pans with butter and line with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk flour, desiccated coconut, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Place sugar and egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix until fluffy. Add mayonnaise, coconut milk, buttermilk, coconut and vanilla extracts; mix until combined. With the motor running, slowly add dry ingredients until batter forms; transfer batter to a bowl and set aside. Clean stand mixer bowl and add egg whites; replace paddle with whisk attachment. Whip whites until soft peaks form; fold into cake batter. Divide batter between prepared pans, smoothing tops with a rubber spatula; drop pans lightly on a counter to expel large air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans; invert onto wire racks and let cool.
2. Make the meringue: Using an electric stand mixer, beat egg whites in a bowl until medium-stiff peaks form, 5–7 minutes; set aside. Bring sugar and ¼ cup water to a boil in a 2-qt. sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer; cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 235˚, 4–5 minutes. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle hot syrup into egg whites until combined. Increase speed to high; beat until meringue forms stiff peaks, about 3 minutes more.
Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a cake stand and spread 3 cups meringue over cake; sprinkle with ¼ cup coconut. Repeat with second layer. Place remaining layer on top; cover top and sides with remaining meringue and cover outside of cake with remaining coconut, pressing lightly to adhere. Chill cake 30 minutes to firm meringue; serve chilled or at room temperature.
+ adapted recipe from Cooking for Engineers
• 2 large egg yolks
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup canola oil
1. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt until smooth and light.
2. Secure the bowl by wrapping a dish towel tightly around the base. You want the bowl to be stationary while whisking in the oil.
3. This is a very slow process. Whisk the oil, a few drops at a time, into the mixture. Make sure the mixture is smooth and well integrated before pouring the next few drops of oil. "The whisking will suspend the oil into the yolk mixture and adding the oil a little at a time will keep the mixture in a state of emulsion - which is what you want."
4. After about 1/3 cup of oil has been whisked in, you can speed up the pouring a bit. Make sure the mixture is back in emulsion before pouring any additional oil. Once all the oil has been whisked in, you have mayonnaise.
5. Refrigerate mayonnaise until needed. This recipe will give you just enough mayonnaise for the cake recipe.
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